DOUGLASVILLE, Ga. — In an unusual legal maneuver, the district attorney in this suburb of Atlanta said Monday that he had won indictments against 15 supporters of the Confederate battle flag, accusing them of violating the state’s anti-street-gang statute during a confrontation with black partygoers in July.
Prosecutors say that members of the group, which calls itself Respect the Flag, threatened a group of blacks attending an outdoor birthday party on July 25. A cellphone video of part of the episode shows several white men driving away from the party in a convoy of pickup trucks with the Confederate battle flag and other banners, including American flags, fluttering from the truck beds.
The partygoers contend that members of the flag group yelled racial slurs and displayed a crowbar, a knife and either a rifle or a shotgun, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, a civil rights group in Montgomery, Ala., that is representing some of the accusers.
The Douglas County district attorney, Brian Fortner, a white Republican elected to the office in 2014, announced the indictments in a news conference Monday morning. Each of the 15 was indicted on one count of making terroristic threats and a second count of unlawfully participating in “criminal gang activity.”
Mr. Fortner, whose county has transformed from predominantly white to decidedly mixed over the past two decades, said that the Georgia statute upon which the second charge is based, the Street Gang Terrorism and Prevention Act, was “worded very broadly to deal with any type of activity that occurs with a group that’s organized that commits a crime.”
None of the accused had been arraigned as of Monday, and it was not clear if they had lawyers representing them. By Monday afternoon, none of them had applied for representation with the county public defenders’ office. But a member of the group told a local newspaper that the black partygoers started the confrontation.
Several criminal lawyers and legal scholars said Monday that they could not recall other instances in which a state anti-gang statute had been used to prosecute a Confederate heritage group in the Deep South. The first version of Georgia’s anti-gang law was passed in 1992 at the behest of Atlanta’s police chief at the time, Eldrin Bell.